studio practice

Setting up a studio is one of the first things that many artists consider after completing their degree. There are many decisions to be made, including whether the studio will be at home or away from home, and whether you’ll have your own studio or be part of a group studio.

Below are some Bay Area resources that can be helpful in finding a studio or a live/work space:

1890 Bryant
ActivSpace
Art Explosion Studios
Art House
The Blue Studio
Cell Space
Developing Environments
Million Fishes
The Point: Hunter’s Point and Islais Creek Artists Colony
Root Division
Workspace Limited

Maintaining a Practice

Without the structure of classes, assignments, and deadlines, many recent alumni find it challenging to maintain their studio practice. It can take time to adjust to the transition into a wholly self-directed practice, which takes skills that are quite different from those that helped you excel in school.

Below are some tips that can help to ease the transition:

Approaching Galleries

Building a career as a working artist is not as easy as setting up a studio and an active practice: it takes a dedicated approach to the business side of your work, as well.

Commercial galleries are businesses that aim to sell art. They range widely in showing emerging artists versus established artists. Most galleries acquire artists from exhibitions in not-for-profit galleries or from slides submitted directly from artists.

Not-for-profit galleries or alternative galleries are spaces dedicated to showing, not to selling work. Alternative galleries are an excellent way for emerging artists to build their exhibition record and reputation in the arts community.

Other options for showing your work can include building lobbies, coffee shops, vacant businesses, artist’s studios, and rented gallery space.

Research. Before investing time and energy sending your work to galleries, it’s important to get to know the galleries by visiting and looking at the type of work they show. Galleries differ widely in the artists they show, according to style and where the artists are in their career (emerging, established, etc.). Visit galleries during openings and again when it is less crowded. Look at the space, the way the art is displayed, the professionalism of publications, mailings, and the staff. Ask about the clientele. Read the reviews. The better you know the galleries, the more efficient you will be in figuring out where your work might fit in.

A good place to start exploring galleries online is Fecal Face or ArtSlant, both of which have decent gallery guides for San Francisco as well as listings of openings that you might want to attend. You can also pick up a copy of the San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), which has a great listing of galleries and alternative spaces in the Bay Area.

Presenting Your Work. When you begin to approach galleries, you need to have a professional artist’s packet put together. This includes a portfolio, a cover letter, an exhibition resume, an artist’s statement, and a biography.

An artist's website functions as an online version of this packet, and thus includes a resume, artist's statement, artwork documentation, and sometimes a bio. It should also include a way to contact the artist by email. Like the physical versions of these same items, it is important that the site is regularly updated, organized, easy to navigate, and professional looking. Do not include personal or social items on your professional website. Your site name should also be professional; most artists register a domain name that is some version of their name (e.g., www.firstnamelastname.com).

The approach. Research a gallery’s submission policy. Many galleries do not mind if you drop off a packet politely and quickly, while others have special times and days for reviewing work. Some galleries will only review your work if someone recommends you. Most like to receive them in the mail.

One month after mailing your packet, call and inquire if your packet was received and when it might be reviewed. Do not do this in person. Remember that it’s annoying and inconvenient for galleries to deal with artists who appear unannounced and demand to be reviewed. If you are given the opportunity to discuss your work in person, be sure to follow up with a written note of thanks. If this does not result in any further relationship with the gallery, simply cross them off your list for now and move on.

Start keeping records of all the galleries that you approach. This can be done easily and quickly in a spreadsheet. If you receive favorable feedback from one gallery, note it in your records—you will want to approach them again when you have new work. Likewise, if a gallery is not interested in your work now, it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the work you will produce in the future. When you have a revised body of work, send them another artist packet.

Persistence. It will take some time to get your first show, and it may take even longer to get your second. Persistence is crucial: most successful artists are rejected many times before they finally break through. It can help to start thinking of your success according to your own standards and the quality of your work rather than by how many times you show or by the sales of your work.

Continuing Your Professional Development

Many art organizations in the Bay Area offer professional development courses and workshops for artists. Courses like this can be a useful tool in revitalizing your practice and refreshing your take on the business side of the art world. Some of the most prominent organizations to offer such courses are SOMArts, Root Division, San Francisco Artist Network, and ArtSpan.

  • Set goals. Whether you set a weekly schedule of time that you will spend in your studio, or simply hours per week that you will work, setting goals is an important way to keep yourself on task and accountable to your work. Starting with small, attainable goals will allow you to be successful in meeting your goals, but will prepare you for larger, more intense goals as your practice grows.
  • Find a community. Creating work in a community that supports, critiques, and challenges your work is much different than creating your work alone. Part of the hard work of establishing yourself as a working artist is to create a community that will support you and your practice. For some, this community can exist as an extension of school by maintaining connections with other recent alumni. Others choose to live or share studio space with other artists to create a built-in community. Attending events, openings, and visiting other artists’ studios are other ways to keep yourself involved in an ongoing dialogue.
  • Meet with Career Resources. The services at the Career Resources Center are available to you after you graduate. Counselors meet with recent alumni frequently to assist students in planning for their life as a working artist and addressing challenges that come up as they work through this transition.